The Christopher Barrios Case
Crimes That Stain Your Soul: A History of the Case
In March of 2007, my photographer husband I covered the Crime Library breaking news of a six-year-old boy missing from his neighborhood. We lived in Savannah, a little over an hour drive down I-95.
Christopher was last seen skipping toward his home, with a toy “light saber” in his hand, but he never reached home. When his stepmother realized Christopher was not at his grandmother’s and couldn’t locate him, she contacted his father at work to help with the search. They couldn’t find Christopher and called the police.
Local investigators and Georgia Bureau of Investigation quickly organized search teams and interviewed the residents of the mobile home park. One of the investigators saw a “lightsaber” in the yard of a mobile home that was in the path that Christopher took to go from his grandmother’s home to his father’s. The investigator observed that the occupants behaved suspiciously when he asked about the toy. The trailer park housed a number of men with a history of sex offenses, including Christopher’s father.
This case is an example how a state’s best intentions can go horribly wrong. In 2006 Georgia strengthened its laws to prevent child molesters from exploiting children on playgrounds. Specifically, child molesters were not allowed to live within a thousand feet of schools and playgrounds. The Superior Court in Brunswick, GA convicted George Edenfield in 1997 for molesting two young boys. The parents refused a deal of a trial and moved away. George was sentenced to ten years probation because it would have been difficult to sentence him to prison without the boys as witnesses.
During that decade George Edenfield lived with his parents downtown on Union Street. The house was several hundred feet from a playground, which was in clear violation of the new Georgia law. Glynn County authorities told George at the end of August that he had to leave. His failure to do so caused his arrest in September 2006. A month later the Edenfields moved to the Canal Mobile Home Park on Horseshoe Lane where children of various ages lived. Among them was a six-year-old boy named Christopher Barrios.
While the 2006 Georgia law prevented sex offenders from living near a playground, there were no restrictions barring child molesters from living near school bus stops. There was a school bus stop very close to the mobile home park where the Edenfields had moved.
On Monday, March 5, 2007, George, faced Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett on the charges of having lived too close to a playground. He pleaded guilty, and the judge sentenced hem to ten additional years of probation. A local official familiar with George Edenfield’s case asked for a stricter form of probation, but a state official persuaded the court that it was unnecessary. Apparently, during the ten years of George’s probation since 1997, no one had come forward with a criminal complaint against him.
Three days later on Thursday, March 8 shortly after 6:30 p.m. Christopher Barrios was missing. Christopher lived with his father and stepmother in the mobile home park, and his grandmother lived in the same park. The Edenfields lived across the street from the grandmother. The path Christopher Barrios took to go from his grandmother’s residence to his fathers’ went past the Edenfield’s trailer.
The following week investigators found Christopher’s body in trash bags in a wooded area. The boy had been raped anally and orally and choked to death.
One sex offender stood out as a prime suspect: George Edenfield. George’s father, David Edenfield, was also an offender who had sexually assaulted a member of his family. The elder Edenfield admitted that he and George had lured Christopher into their home. The two men raped and sodomized the boy while Peggy Edenfield watched and masturbated. The Edenfields believed that after the horrific sexual assault, their only chance of avoiding detection was to kill the child and dispose of his body. David Edenfield told authorities that as his son strangled Christopher, he put his hands over George’s so that he could feel what it was like to participate in a killing.
“Christopher was dead. I guess it excited all of us,” David Edenfield said.
David, Peggy & George Endenfield Mug Shots
He persuaded his friend Donald Dale to help conceal the crime by wrapping him in plastic trash bags and lying to the police.
While we were in Brunswick, we decided to learn a bit more about George Edenfield, so we walked around the neighborhood he had lived in for so many years and took photos of the house and the playground that was instrumental in his move to the mobile home park. We also stopped people on the street and knocked on the doors of homes around the one in which he had lived. Most of the people we spoke to either didn’t know him or knew him but didn’t want to talk about him.
Finally, one woman reluctantly gave me an interview about what kind of person George was. From her perspective, there was something wrong with him. She didn’t know whether he was mentally ill, developmentally challenged, autistic or a combination of those conditions. His behavior was abusive and frightening. She was terrified of him. She wouldn’t even drive her car past his house after the threats he had made to her. One day when she was in her front yard, he came over to her with hedge clippers in his hands and a look of sheer hatred in his eyes.
“I’m gonna cut your bush,” he said as he opened and shut the clippers close to her abdomen. She backed away from him quickly, got into her house, and locked the door. It wasn’t the first time that he harassed her, banging on the door with his fists and yelling obscenities.
Later that day, we went to the mobile home park to talk to the residents and take photos. involvement in Christopher’s death. The people that lived there fell into two different camps when asked about George Edenfield. They all knew that there was something permanently wrong with him given his inexplicable bursts of anger and rude behavior. Some of the residents felt sorry for him and his parents, but others were afraid of having him live with them.
His parents had told the neighbors that George was fine when he took his medicine and that he was harmless. We also learned that George had stalked and propositioned two teenage boys and waited for them at the bus stop frequently in the afternoons when they came home from school. They did not know he was a convicted child molester.
The mother of one of the teenage boys George had propositioned granted me an interview. She told me that when her husband found out, he was going to kill George. The caretaker of the trailer park and the boy’s mother had talked the husband out of taking any action. The family had experienced some trouble with the authorities in another state and did not want it known to the park owner.
I spoke on the phone to the father of the other teenager George had stalked. When the father first heard of it, he said he was ready to give George a good beating. Instead, he counseled his son to ignore George and not be friendly and polite to him. The father also mentioned that he didn’t want any violence on his part to result in having the park owner ask his family to leave.
As the residents of the park learned what the Edenfields had done to Christopher and the history of their sexual offenses, they were infuriated that George had been in court several days before the murder. The justice system had failed them. George should have been locked up for his parole violation not just given ten more years of probation. If that had happened, Christopher Barrios would still be alive.
The only thing more heartbreaking than the brutal death of a 6-year-old boy is the fact that it didn’t have to happen at all. I wish I could say that the rape and murder of Christopher Barrios Jr. by a family of convicted pedophiles was an unusual case, but it is not. Many factors contributed to his death, and until these issues are addressed, children all over the country are at risk
For one thing, there are communities in which residents unfairly see law enforcement as the problem, not the solution to dangerous behavior they witness in their neighborhoods. Residents recognized George Edenfield’s menacing and uncontrollable behavior in downtown Brunswick and the mobile home park, but, apparently, no one made a criminal complaint.
Had Judge Stephen Scarlett known of George’s aggressive acts, I suspect that the outcome of George’s hearing on his parole violation would have been different than just ten more years of regular probation. In many ways, the community had failed the justice system and themselves with its silence
A jury in Judge Scarlett’s court convicted David Edenfield of kidnapping, murder, child molestation and several other serious crimes—all in connection with the brutal sexual assault and death of six-year-old Christopher Barrios—and sentenced him to death.
Peggy Edenfield testified against her husband and son so that she would not get the death penalty and instead received a sixty-year prison sentence.
Experts judged George Edenfield incompetent and housed him a state mental facility.
Family friend Donald Dale acknowledged that he lied to police and tampered with evidence to conceal the death of a person. Prosecutors dropped the more serious charges and let him plead guilty of lying to police but mentally retarded (that is the actual legal terminology). He served much of his sentence on probation in a state home for the mentally disabled outside of Glynn County.
A Final Word
While such cases are heartbreaking, one should take away the lesson of “If you see something wrong, say something to the proper officials”
Marilyn J. Bardsley